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Southern Black Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

Merline Pitre

Publication Year: 2013

Throughout the South, black women were crucial to the Civil Rights Movement, serving as grassroots and organizational leaders. They protested, participated, sat in, mobilized, created, energized, led particular efforts, and served as bridge builders to the rest of the community. Ignored at the time by white politicians and the media alike, with few exceptions they worked behind the scenes to effect the changes all in the movement sought. Until relatively recently, historians, too, have largely ignored their efforts.

Although African American women mobilized all across Dixie, their particular strategies took different forms in different states, just as the opposition they faced from white segregationists took different shapes. Studies of what happened at the state and local levels are critical not only because of what black women accomplished, but also because their activism, leadership, and courage demonstrated the militancy needed for a mass movement.

In this volume, scholars address similarities and variations by providing case studies of the individual states during the 1950s and 1960s, laying the groundwork for more synthetic analyses of the circumstances, factors, and strategies used by black women in the former Confederate states to destroy the system of segregation in this country.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

We received considerable help in preparing and publishing this book. For that assistance we wish to thank a number of people. Without the scholarship and ability of the authors, of course, the book would not have been feasible. We are grateful for the cooperation of the eleven authors whose original articles comprise this book. ...

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Introduction: Contributions of African American Women in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 1-12

African American women have played a significant role in the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality since the inception of this nation. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the former Confederate states during the modern civil rights era, from 1954 to 1974. During the height of civil rights struggles, black women, like black men, were foot soldiers in sit-in, pray-in, and stand-in campaigns. ...

Part I: Professional and Organizational Leaders

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1. “A Tremendous Job To Be Done”: African American Women in the Virginia Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 15-28

The names of Irene Morgan and Barbara Johns are unfamiliar to many students of the civil rights movement. Because historians have focused on more visible male leaders and on a handful of pivotal battlegrounds in the South, these women, like so many others who played important roles in the movement, have been sidelined. ...

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2. Making the Invisible Visible: African American Women in the Texas Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 29-44

During a sermon one Sunday during Black History Month in 2007, the pastor at a predominantly urban African American church in Houston, Texas, told his congregation that “overcoming inequality was not a one-man operation.”1 At that I could not help but change my church lady’s hat to my professor’s hat as I thought, once again, “What about the women?” ...

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3. Black Women in the Arkansas Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 45-66

The Jim Crow system and poverty relegated the majority of black women in Arkansas to jobs as farm laborers or domestic servants for the first half of the twentieth century. Because Arkansas was overwhelmingly rural, its principal industry was agriculture, and its rural African American population had few opportunities to work other than on farms and plantations. ...

Part II: Bridge Leaders and Foot Soldiers in the Deep South

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4. Black Women in the Florida Civil Rights Era, 1954–1974

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pp. 69-86

Florida’s Mary McLeod Bethune died on May 18, 1955—one year and one day after the US Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional. She had devoted her life to insuring that African Americans be treated as full citizens. Bethune asserted her beliefs in speeches and newspaper articles, claiming, “We must challenge, skillfully but resolutely, ...

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5. Black Women in Alabama, 1954–1974

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pp. 87-94

In his 1963 inauguration speech as governor of Alabama, George Wallace proclaimed his platform for his coming term by promising, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”1 Wallace made good on that pledge when, a few months following his speech, he defiantly stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to bar the first African-American students from enrolling. ...

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6. “Call the Women”: The Tradition of African American Female Activism in Georgia during the Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 95-116

Hundreds of black women in Georgia heeded “the call” to lead when it was issued back in 1899 by educator and activist Lucy Craft Laney. During the mid-twentieth century, the women who responded hailed from a variety of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, and they brought a range of skills and experiences that informed their contributions. ...

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7. Women in the South Carolina Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 117-136

Just as in other parts of the South, black women were important participants in the civil rights movement in South Carolina. In the struggle for social justice, voting rights, and equal opportunity in all facets of American life, these women were prominent contributors. Indeed, they influenced the movement throughout the South, ...

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8. Black Women Activists in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Era, 1954–1974

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pp. 137-152

The modern civil rights movement, 1954–74, was a struggle built upon generations of black activism and the contributions of nationally recognized as well as largely unknown individuals. As demonstrated by recent scholarship, the contributions of the latter group—often local, grassroots activists—were indispensable to the successes of the movement.1 ...

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9. Black Women in the North Carolina Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 153-164

In September 1961, Willena Cannon was an eighteen-year-old freshman at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, in Greensboro. Originally from Mullins, South Carolina, Cannon had arrived some eighteen months after four African American students from North Carolina A&T sat down at Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro and ordered coffee.1 ...

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10. Southern Black Women in the Louisiana Civil Rights Era, 1954–1974

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pp. 165-182

In March 1953, in what appeared to be a harbinger of events to come, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, city council passed an ordinance allowing blacks and whites to board city buses on a first-come, first-served basis, ostensibly ending segregation in public transportation. Whites would sit from front to back and blacks from back to front, ...

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11. African American Women in the Tennessee Civil Rights Movement

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pp. 183-202

The civil rights movement carried out in Tennessee by black women and men has a complex and an expansive history, but it has always has been about gaining socioeconomic equality and human and civil rights for African Americans. The movement, which reached its acme following World War II, had its beginnings in antebellum times. ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 203-216

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Contributors

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pp. 217-220

Stefanie Decker received her PhD from Oklahoma State University; her dissertation topic was Alabama reformer and activist Virginia Durr. She has published articles on African Americans in the civil rights movement in East Texas Historical Journal and in Black Women in Texas History, edited by Bruce A. Glasrud and Merline Pitre. She teaches at Amarillo College. ...

Index

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pp. 221-236

Back Cover

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p. 250-250


E-ISBN-13: 9781603449991
E-ISBN-10: 160344999X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603449472

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • African American women civil rights workers -- Southern States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African American women civil rights workers -- Southern States -- Biography.
  • Civil rights workers -- Southern States -- Biography.
  • African American women -- Civil rights -- Southern States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Southern States -- Social conditions -- History -- 20th century.
  • Southern States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States.
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